It’s one of the most complex, contentious questions in sports: Who are the fittest athletes in the world? Every sport makes different demands and physiques are carved and cut and chiseled in distinct ways, but success at each often hinges on conditioning. What happens when you level the playing field and compare disparate sports?
With the help of a panel of trainers, exercise physiologists and performance experts, athletes were selected based on their performances over the last 12 months; demands and risks of their respective sports; durability; training regimens; and other physical criteria including power, speed, strength, agility, endurance, flexibility and more.
Read more about the selection process here, and count down to see the fittest male and female athletes in the world right now.
Meet the Experts
Dr. Michael Joyner
Human performance expert, Mayo Clinic
Vice president for performance, IMG Academy
Dr. Christopher Lundstrom
Exercise physiologist and coach of elite distance runners
EXOS performance manager, CSCS
Physical therapist, athletic trainer and author
Click below to navigate to the complete list of men and women.
If you don’t think golfers are athletes, you haven’t seen 28-year-old Brooks Koepka in the gym. The world’s top golfer and 2018 U.S. Open and PGA Championship winner, Koepka gets his strapping 6-foot, 186-pound frame and bulging biceps from intense lifting sessions and dynamic workouts focused on explosiveness and mobility, often with Florida-based trainer Joey Diovisalvi.
In July 2018, 32-year-old Geraint Thomas became only the third Brit to win the Tour de France, cycling’s famed 23-day race that is the ultimate test of extreme endurance and the ability to push past pain and suffering. Before ruling the road, Thomas captured two Olympic gold medals in track cycling in 2008 and ’12.
What would it take for you to run more than 4,000 miles in a year? It’s standard for trail- and ultra-runner Jim Walmsley, who surpassed that mark on Strava in 2018 in his training for several top finishes, including a course-record 14 hours, 30 minutes at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run (the Super Bowl of ultra-running) in June. Walmsley customizes his diet in order to fuel his body for the ultra distances and training for various terrains and trails.
At age 22 and more than a year out from the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, Caeleb Dressel is already making waves. Standing at 6’3” and 190 pounds, the American sprint specialist dominated the 2018 NCAA Championships. He then went pro in 2018, signing with Speedo and breaking records at the ’18 Fina World Championships. In addition to training for missile-like, explosive power off the blocks, Dressel has mastered the art of building strength without adding too much muscle mass or bulk.
The 34-year-old Kenyan cemented his place as the greatest marathoner of all time in 2018, crushing the world record by one minute and 18 seconds with his 2:01:39 finish at the Berlin Marathon. While the feat further proved his dominance in the 26.2-mile distance, Kipchoge isn’t done yet—he plans to continue constructing his 5’6”, 115-pound body into an even finer-tuned marathon machine.
While the NHL is full of incredible athletes, it’s speed that sets Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid apart from others in the league. The 21-year-old has won two consecutive fastest skater titles at the NHL All-Star Game SuperSkills Competition. And his commitment to honing his agility and acceleration on the ice, combined with his masterly stick-handling and puck control, is paying off: in December 2018 alone, McDavid put up eight goals and 24 points in 13 games.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist in the coxless pair at London 2012 and Rio ’16 and world champion for six consecutive years, New Zealand’s Hamish Bond dominated rowing for nearly a decade. But the 32-year-old is now looking to make his mark in a second sport, switching to road cycling with an eye on Tokyo 2020—clear evidence of his peak conditioning.
During his breakout 2018 season, Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has demonstrated his superhuman abilities with seemingly impossible throws and sneaky escapes from defenders. His arm strength and athleticism could translate to several sports—in fact, before becoming an NFL star, Mahomes was a top baseball prospect and didn’t play football full-time until he was a sophomore in college.
While he may not have had an MVP-caliber season in his first year with the New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton hit .266 with 38 homeruns and 100 RBI and still ranks as one of the fittest, most powerful hitters in Major League Baseball. During the offseason, the 6’6” outfielder is known for intense (and insane) workouts, from traditional lifting sessions to unconventional physical challenges.
At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Dutch speedskater Kjeld Nuis won gold medals in the 1500- and 1000-meter events, after many world championships since his first in ’14. Besides focusing on form and technique, Nuis adds cycling, resistance training, plyometric exercises and Olympic lifting techniques into his vigorous workouts.
Tommy Caldwell is known for his historic free-climb ascent of the El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park and is considered one of the world’s best free climbers, along with good friend Alex Honnold. To complete his impressive feats, 40-year-old Caldwell uses various techniques to build the aerobic conditioning and muscular strength needed to scale small edges of rocks and boulders. From mountain running to backcountry skiing, the workouts are always adventurous.
In October 2018, Germany’s Patrick Lange became the first-ever athlete to break eight hours at the IROMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, setting a new course record of 7:52:39 en route to his second straight title. Remarkably, the 32-year-old didn’t do his first full IRONMAN race until 2016 and before becoming a professional triathlete, Lange worked as a licensed physiotherapist, so he puts a lot of his training focus on recovery.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City’s star continues to make triple-double history with every game he plays, chasing Magic Johnson (138) and Oscar Robertson (181) for the most in NBA history. At 6’3” with a 7-foot wingspan, Westbrook incorporates sprints, weight lifting sessions and resistance training into his regimen—though most of his workout details are kept under wraps.
In Croatia’s run to the World Cup final in 2018, team captain Luka Modrić recorded a distance of 39.1 miles ran but showed little signs of fatigue, a marker of his stamina and tireless ability to cover the pitch. The winner of several major awards in 2018—including the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball, UEFA Men's Player of the Year Award, the Best FIFA Men's Player and the Ballon d'Or—the Real Madrid midfielder is known to be obsessed with staying in prime physical shape.
Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is in line to win a second-straight NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, thanks to his Hulk-like 6’0”, 284-pound build, menacing pass-rushing tactics and punishing combo of explosive power, agility and brute strength. Donald finished 2018 with 20.5 sacks and forced four fumbles in his fifth season in the league.
It was an up-and-down year for Canelo Álvarez, after a rematch of a controversial draw with Gennady Golovkin was canceled following Álvarez's positive test for a banned substance. But following a six-month suspension, the Mexican boxer ultimately came out on top, returning in September to defeat GGG in a majority decision to win the unified middleweight title. Then three months later, Álvarez moved up one weight class to claim the super middleweight world title with a third-round knockout of Rocky Fielding. A mix of elite conditioning, stamina and power punches makes Alvarez one of the world’s best in the ring.
Though he wasn’t victorious against Khabib Nurmagomedov in his much-anticipated return to the octagon, Conor McGregor’s ability to swing from UFC to boxing and then back again is a testament to his superior fitness. A multi-weight champion in UFC, the 30-year-old from Ireland packs precision and punishing power into his signature punch.
After leaving the Rio 2016 Olympics without any hardware, 30-year-old American Jordan Burroughs is still chasing Olympic gold—and U.S. wrestling history. Burroughs finished with a bronze medal at World Championships in 2018, but he’s still working towards Tokyo 2020, focusing on building explosiveness, not bulk, on his brawny, 5’7” frame.
Los Angeles Lakers
At age 34 and in his 16th NBA season, LeBron James knows how to sculpt, shape and strengthen his 6’8”, 250-pound beastly body for the rigor of the NBA season. From plyometrics to Bodyblade exercises, to a team of coaches, trainers, personal chefs and masseuses that help him prepare, James spends a lot of time—and money—on his physical fitness, but the attention to detail continues to pay off as his storied career carries on.
It was a record year for 29-year-old Mat Fraser, who took home his third consecutive CrossFit Games title in dominating fashion with a record 220-point separation between the American and the rest of the field. From three-plus hour weightlifting workouts to metabolic conditioning and lengthy recovery sessions, Fraser’s full-time job is training to keep his 5’7”, 190-pound physique in prime condition—and he’s damn good at it.
On the same day the record books were rewritten in the marathon in 2018, France’s Kevin Mayer broke the decathlon world record, earning 9,126 points over the 10 events, 81 points higher than the previous mark set by Ashton Eaton. An Olympic silver medalist in 2016, 26-year-old Mayer’s remarkable success in the grueling, diverse event speaks to his exceptional conditioning in all aspects of fitness.
After missing part of 2017 due to an elbow injury, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic stormed back to his best form in ’18, winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and reclaiming the World No. 1 spot for the first time since ’16. Lean, long-lasting and limber, the 31-year-old’s resurgence is due in part to his commitment to injury rehabilitation, conditioning, diet and mental health.
Have you seen Giannis Antetokounmpo lately? Last offseason, the 24-year-old made it clear that he was taking his game to the next level, bulking up his already-intimidating 6'11", 242-pound frame (and 7'3" wingspan) for his sixth season in the league. Antetokounmpo has continued to transform his body—and deliver on the court—over the course of his career, remaining committed to weightlifting sessions and adding boxing into his regimen. They don’t call him the “Greek Freak” for nothing.